LIVE: The MASS MoCA Music Festival, 8/15/09
The fact that MASS MoCA decided to host its first pop music festival on the weekend of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock was sheer coincidence. Things at the North Adams museum were downright civilized. No mud; plenty of sunshine and good food available – beverages, too, including a selection of decent beers – for just $5.
And the music?
You can go here to read my review in the Times Union.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland made the most of playing a museum. For their final selection of the afternoon, keyboardist Wyndham Boylan-Garnett left his station of vintage pump organ and harmonium, grabbed his trombone and hopped off the stage into the crowd. The crowd began running around in a circle, flapping their arms up and down like wings. With a marching band bass drum strapped over his shoulders, drummer Nick Kinsey announced, “This is contemporary art, people. Just so ya know.”
Although her bandmates were in attendance, opening act Samantha Crain kicked off the fest with a somewhat tentative solo set in honor of her birthday. (Also celebrating his birthday on Saturday was Ben Kweller’s bassist Chris Morrissey.)
The delightfully ramshackle Elvis Perkins in Dearland served up several selections from their upcoming “Doomsday EP,” including the traditional folk fave “Gypsy Davy” and the Sacred Harp classic “Weeping Mary.”
Kaki King proved to be the most talented instrumentalist of the day – without a doubt. The diminutive guitarist sang several songs during her mid-afternoon set, but it was really all about her amazing fretwork on acoustic guitar (a brand new proto-type of the soon-to-be-available Kaki King signature model from Ovation), electric guitar and lap steel.Ben Kweller lent a distinctly country-rock edge to the fest, drawing heavily from his latest album, “Changing Horses.” I’d describe them as Flying Buritto Brothers-meets-Steve Forbert, with pedal steel guitarist Rich Hinman shining as the band’s most valuable player. On “Sawdust Man” – one of the clear highlights of their show – they also evoked the medicine show backbeat funk of the Band.
Troy artist Michael Oatman took a slightly different approach to describing the music of Kweller and his band, invoking “Marshall Crenshaw/Neil Young/Vampire Weekend,” as they churned through their anthemic show-closer, “Penny On the Train Track.”
Headliner Josh Ritter was a revelation. Having only previously seen him perform as a solo, I was captivated by the way he used his band in concert on Saturday. After opening with achingly intimate, almost solo “Idaho” and “Wildfires,” the band came in like gangbusters on “Mind’s Eye” and the hooky pop nugget “Right Moves.”
Ritter did go the solo route for a mid-set pairing of “Bright Smile” and “The Temptation of Adam,” but the most impressive band effort was the new “Another New World,” a metaphorical sea voyage into the unknown. The atmospheric, impressionistic musical accompaniment swelled to a chaotic catharsis.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland will be special guests at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock on Halloween night (Saturday, October 31).
Josh Ritter will be be performing at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday, Dec. 5.
JOSH RITTER SET LIST
Black Hole? (new song)
The Temptation of Adam
Real Long Distance
Girl in the War
Another New World
Lillian, Egypt/Obladi, Oblada
To the Dogs or Whoever
Snow Is Gone
Photos by Martin Benjamin